Nature

Whooping Cranes Return to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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Over 500 Whooping Cranes, North America’s tallest bird, migrate to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for their winter home. Rockport and Fulton communities embrace this phenomenon, providing boat tours and other viewing opportunities for birders and nature lovers.

In 1967, the Whooping Cranes were named an endangered species. Their wild flock numbered only 15 in the 1940s, but the current population is close to 600. A pair of Whooping Cranes mate for life. Each year, pairs or families of Whoopers make their way from the marshes of Southern Canada and the Northern U.S. They travel over 2,500 miles to reach the Texas Gulf Coast.

The International Crane Foundation has an office in Rockport. The Texas Program is operated by Senior Whooping Crane Scientist, Dr. Liz Smith and her colleagues.

Dr. Smith said, “One of the primary goals of the Texas Program is protecting the coastal habitat for wintering Whooping Cranes, which is critical for the species. There are quite a few other animals who make use of this habitat too, including lots of herons, Sandhill Cranes, wild hogs, and alligators.”

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Best land views of the birds are at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was named the “Best place for birding in the United States” by USA Today’s 10Best. The Aransas national Wildlife Refuge is 30-40 minutes from Rockport-Fulton, and is a major attraction for the area.

Whoopers can be spotted away from their Aransas national Wildlife Refuge nesting spot as far south as along Goose Island State Park. The marsh in this area offers an excellent habitat for the Whooping Crane. Blue Crabs, their number one food source, plus an abundance of wolfberries and other sources, is abundant there. The majestic Whooping Crane stands over 5-feet tall, with a 7-foot wingspan.

Boat Captain Tommy Moore, who operates the Skimmer tour boat out of Fulton Harbor, says,. Captain Moore says “We had a late migration this year. The first birds were noted on November 8. It was reported that a record number of Whooping Cranes made a stopover on the Platt River in central Nebraska. Although we have seen 5-6 pairs already this season, it is not uncommon to see 10-15 pairs once the season is in full force. Of the birds we are seeing this season, we are seeing a lot of babies, with varying degrees of adult plumage.”

Whooping Crane Boat Tours

Whooping Cranes return to port Aransas

Photo: Courtesy Rockport-Fulton Chamber

Other migrating birds have also made their way into the area. Moore says they have spotted a Bald Eagle, rare for this area. Oystercatchers are abundant and large American White Pelicans can be seen feeding with Egrets and other species. Rosette Spoonbills can be seen in the marshes and shallow waters, with their right pink plumage is a favorite for sightseers and photographers.

Moore adds “We are officially in open season and making trips into the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Scheduled trips continue through the end of March. We are excited to see the increased numbers of avid birders coming in this year. We are looking forward to a great season”

The tours are professionally narrated, and binoculars are available for an up-close view. These trips generally last three hours with an average 30-60 species of birds and other animals spotted along the way.

Some area professional fishing guides also offer birding boat tours by appointment. For information, visit rockport-fulton.org, or call the Rockport-Fulton CVC at (361) 729-6445.